How dogs express their pain?

Dogs also suffer from pain, and like people, they can show they are in pain.


But the symptoms of pain are highly variable. They depend on the dogs' personality and its tolerance to pain. Many dogs may not show obvious signs that they are in pain, but it does not mean they are not suffering.

A simple questionnaire can help you detect the most common signs of pain.


Something as minor as a slight limp or a change in appetite can be considered a sign that something is wrong.
In fact, the most common sign of pain is a change in the dog’s behaviour. What might be thought of as a minor change in behaviour, and commonly attributed to ageing or nature could actually be an expression of pain.

How do you know if your dog is in pain?

  • Altered behaviour: your dog is abnormally restless, aggressive if approached, or alternatively is abnormally depressed, showing no response
  • Altered movement: reluctance to move, wobbliness or stiffness
  • Lameness: obvious discomfort when walking
  • Barking: your dog does not stop barking despite being told not to
  • Decreased or lack of appetite
  • Excessive whimpering, including if petted or patted on a specific area

Both the expression and threshold of canine pain can vary greatly, not only with age and breed, but also among individual dogs. Some dogs tend to hide their pain as a protective mechanism; a lack of expression does not mean that they are not suffering.


Watch for these signs and learn to interpret changes in your dog’s behaviour.
If you have seen one of these signs, the best thing to do is to consult your veterinary surgeon. The vet is the best person to identify the causes of animal pain and to suggest the appropriate course of action.

So don’t hesitate to ask your vet as the problem will get worse over time without proper treatment.

You will find a very helpful questionnaire to evaluate if your dog is in pain.

Information sources

The American Animal Hospital Association/American Association of Feline Practitioners Pain Management Guidelines for Dogs & Cats, 2007

Handbook of veterinary pain management. James S. Gaynor, William W. Muir III. Mosby Elsevier, 2nd edition, 2009

Pain management in small animals. A manual for veterinary nurses and technicians. Debbie Grant. Butterworth Heinemann, 2006